The Star Wars prequel trilogy never grabbed me as much as the original did, so I wasn’t nearly as excited for William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace as I was for the first three books that came out in Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean Star Wars series. Before I even started reading this latest edition, I felt like the novelty of crossing the two streams had finally worn off. But by the time I was twenty pages into the book, I found myself giddy all over again at recognizing references to some of my favorite Shakespeare plays and lines.
If I thought The Jedi Doth Return would be hard to stage, this one is even more of a challenge. There’s water, larger creatures, and legions of battle droids as well as lots of balcony scenes and even characters jumping on and off said balconies. Luckily most of the podracing takes place off stage. Meanwhile the Opee and Sando mini-monologues may have continued in the vein of the rancor and wampa, but announcing they were sent by other parties was a bridge too far.
And then there’s Jar Jar. Doescher adds layers to the character in a way that makes him far less grating than he was in the movies while harkening to Caliban mixed with Trinculo of The Tempest. It’s a welcome adjustment. Anakin also sounds far removed from the kid we saw in the movie, but I’m not sure if that’s as good a thing. Queen Amidala/Padmé is quite fittingly a cross between Katherine (of Taming of the Shrew) and Juliet (although with much fixation on her own age) with a dash of Twelfth Night’s Viola. Qui-Gon is as wise as ever, offering advice those in fandom may seek to abide by: “Give ev’ry man thine ear, but few thy voice–”
The crowning achievement though is found in lines of beautiful language that not only gave me pause, but provided another perspective on the dialogue and elements of the Star Wars universe we as fans know so well. It makes the book feel so much deeper of a story, from Qui-Gon’s description of a lightsaber as “… power of a burning sun. This mystic beam…” to Anakin’s plea to his mother:
“‘Tis you who taught me this: our universe
Is massive, infinite. The trouble, though,
Begins because no one shall help the other.
A universe of beings, and each one
Is too uncaring or afraid to stretch
Their arms out wide and proffer helping hands.
Shall we, in this grim moment of their need,
Do just as others do and turn our backs?”
It’s a hushed reverence found in moments of awe that I never felt while watching the film. In other words: “I was moved withal.” (Coriolanus, Act V, Scene III)
And yet I hesitate to recommend this book to everyone. It’s more of a niche publication. If you aren’t a definite The Phantom Menace fan and aren’t really into Shakespeare, this probably isn’t for you. Although you might still enjoy the scene where two Jedi explain why the technology and fashion of the prequels look different than that of the original trilogy. If you’re keen on The Phantom Menace but not so familiar with Shakespeare, this could be a book to help you understand Shakespeare better. The first three books already have a teaching guide and hopefully this one will soon too. And if you like The Phantom Menace and Shakespeare, then I’ll be surprised if you haven’t ordered the book already.
The publisher provided FANgirl Blog a copy of this book.
Find my previous reviews in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series:
Kay grew up wanting to be an astronaut (but not an Impossible Astronaut). After seeing Star Wars, she wanted to be Princess Leia, Han Solo, and an astronaut (still a regular astronaut). A voice actor, photographer, and artist who also consults in communications and marketing, Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, reviewing, and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs, hobbies, and fitness routines if she was a Time Lord. You can follow her on Twitter.
Kay is FANgirl's resident geek fashion expert and co-host of the Hyperspace Theories podcast. She reviews books and movies for the site with a heart for storytelling and a mind that likes to analyze. Kay's been a guest on various podcasts sharing her love and knowledge of storytelling, film-making, fashion, and of course, Star Wars.
Most days are filled with her work as a creative services professional - designing websites & branding, photographing, voice acting, editing, and more. Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, costuming, and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord.
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- The Secrets of the Jedi Review - November 12, 2019